Editor's note: Missourian reporters visiting their homes during the week of Thanksgiving caught up with Occupy movements in those cities. This is one of six dispatches from the Occupy movement across the country.
CEDAR FALLS, IOWA — There are no tents in Overman Park — at least not anymore.
Protesters occupied the park across the street from Cedar Falls City Hall for about a month. Occupy Cedar Valley, which includes members from Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa, packed up on Nov. 17.
"I was pretty disappointed when we decided to take down, but that wasn't the strength of what our scene was," said Tyler Vincent, an adjunct community college history instructor. "The camp was really sucking people's energy."
Dawn Ask Martín, another member of the group, said the goal of raising awareness and sparking dialogue was accomplished. She encouraged other Occupy groups to stay the course, but felt the movement in Cedar Valley could achieve its goals through other concrete action, such as sponsoring teach-ins and collecting signatures supporting a constitutional amendment banning corporate personhood.
Vincent said he was unable to camp overnight because he's married and has a 4-year-old son. He joined the group after he heard of the first police brutalities in New York City.
"Those kids aren’t hurting anyone," Vincent said. "I started to look at what they were saying. And I really got their sense of outrage."
For Vincent, one issue is the unequal distribution of wealth and the expense of higher education. Vincent said he graduated last spring with a master's degree and has loans that total $60,000.
"We're told that education is the most important thing," Vincent said. "The issue is that with the economy, there are no jobs available."
Martín said she, too, found inspiration from the activists in New York. She joined the Cedar Valley movement after getting its meeting announcement in an email.
Martín said some of the issues that motivated her involvement were urbanization of farmlands, factory farms, pollution and genetically modified organisms.
Both Martín and Vincent said even though the camp is no longer in place, the activism is evolving. Although the group is looking for a prominent office space, it meets every Sunday at the Wesley Foundation and continues to plan events and reach out to people in the area. Both also said the group’s relationship with the mayor and the police department had been positive during their occupation of the park.
"It's very nice to know that … there are still communities that value the First Amendment," Vincent said.
Capt. Jeff Sitzmann of the Cedar Falls Police Department said the protesters were allowed to occupy the park because they weren't hurting anyone or interfering with the city's day-to-day activities.
Sitzmann said the decision was based, in part, on freedom of speech and was not politically motivated. "We made a tactical move that was in the best interest of Cedar Falls."
Vincent said involvement with Occupy has renewed his sense of patriotism. "America was founded on dissent," he said.
Since joining the movement, Vincent has waved American flags more than ever. "I don’t like our wars. I don’t like our foreign policy. But, I love this country. I’m proud to be American."